As it turns out, it was in the City of Dreams and the Cultural Capital of Connecticut.
Awol Erizku, who has been identified as the genius behind Beyoncé’s maternity photos, did his undergraduate degree at Cooper Union in New York City’s East Village and was a postgraduate at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.
Erizku’s photo of the pop superstar (shown below) has garnered 9.9 million likes and 472.6k comments since, making it the most-liked Instagram of all time.
While some of the photo’s massive popularity can be attributed to Beyoncé’s celebrity status, the photo’s artistry cannot be denied. Quartz described the full photo album released on the star’s website as having “a classic sensibility and an artist’s eye.”
Naturally, as with any artist, the public is eager to know each and every influence that inspired and brought the masterpieces to life.
Who the artist is, from his family to his favourite canned food (Campbell’s soup, anyone?), is equally as important as his surroundings and circumstances. It is from these bits of information, that brings us one step closer to understanding and appreciating art.
And a big part of any artist’s life is his education.
Art school is where, at the crucial age between 18 to 21 years old, a young artist has a space that nurtures and supports his creativity, as well as forcing the artist to examine himself and his visual language. It is also where they meet fellow artists and lecturers – these are relationships that last and can be hugely influential on any art student’s vision.
In short, art school can set the trajectory of an artist’s future career.
For the Ethiopian-born Erizku, he graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in New York City. It was here that he started honing his photography skills.
According to Cooper Union’s website, it is one of the most prestigious private institutions globally, with a mission to “prepare bright, creative, and ambitious students to apply their talent and expertise to make impactful contributions worldwide”.
It has been named by the New York Times as one of the most selective colleges, while Business Week listed it among the best design schools for creative talent.
The institution also boasts 23 Guggenheim Fellowships, an annual grant by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation for those “who have demonstrated exceptional capacity for productive scholarship or exceptional creative ability in the arts”. Many Nobel laureates and Pulitzer Prize winners are among its fellows.
After he graduated in 2010, Erizku went on to work with a number of photographers before joining Yale University’s Masters in Fine Arts (MFA) in photography.
Their MFA program is conducted over two years and admits just nine students per year.
Since graduating in 2014, Erizku has had his work exhibited at famed venues like the Museum of Modern Art and shot the award-winning actress Viola Davis for The New Yorker:
During his time as a student, Erizku was deeply influenced by rappers like Nas and Rakim, the prodigious New York rappers who changed hip-hop forever. As for artists, Erizku has repeatedly spoken of his admiration for Marcel DuChamp and David Hammons, the exalted artist whose work tackled race in America through different mediums and methods.
“There are not that many colored people in the galleries that I went to [growing up] or the museums that I went to,” Erizku told Artsy. “I was just like, when I become an artist I have to put my two cents in this world.”
And by taking the most liked Instagram photo of all time, he has.